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Secret History


Study reveals first osteological evidence of severed hands in ancient Egypt

Severed Hands
© Stefanović, D

The severed right hands were discovered by archaeologists in three pits in the courtyard of the Hyksos palace at Avaris/Tell el-Dab'a in north-eastern Egypt.

The palace dates from the 15th Dynasty (1640-1530 BC), during which time the Lower and Middle Egypt up to Cusae was ruled by the Hyksos kings, marking the first period in which Egypt had foreign rulers.

Although the practice of placing severed hands is documented in tomb inscriptions and temple reliefs from the New Kingdom onwards, this is the first example of an osteological analysis using physical evidence.

Anatomical markers indicate that the hands are from at least 12 adults, belonging to 11 males and possibly one female. Once the attached parts of the forearm were removed, the hands were deposited in the pits with the fingers wide-splayed, primarily on their palm-facing sides.

The positioning of the hands on their palmar surfaces with splayed fingers may have been caused by taphonomic reasons, or they may have been due to their deliberate placement.


Yak milk consumption among Mongol Empire elites

Yaks graze in modern day Mongolia.
© Alicia Ventresca-Miller
Yaks graze in modern day Mongolia.
For the first time, researchers have pinpointed a date when elite Mongol Empire people were drinking yak milk, according to a study co-led by a University of Michigan researcher.

By analyzing proteins found within ancient dental calculus, an international team of researchers provides direct evidence for consumption of milk from multiple ruminants, including yak. In addition, they discovered milk and blood proteins associated with both horses and ruminants. The team's results are published in Communication Biology.

The study presents novel protein findings from an elite Mongol Era cemetery with exceptional preservation in the permafrost. This is the first example of yak milk recovered from an archaeological context.

Previous research indicates that milk has been a critical resource in Mongolia for more than 5,000 years. While the consumption of cattle, sheep, goat and even horse milk have securely been dated, until now, when people began drinking milk from yaks has been difficult to determine. Understanding when and where humans domesticated this iconic species has been limited to rarely recovered yak remains and artistic depictions of yaks. However, whether these are wild or domestic is unclear.

The discovery of an elite Mongol era cemetery in northern Mongolia was surprising to the researchers.


Researchers use 21st century methods to record 2,000 years of ancient graffiti in Egypt

Simon Fraser University researchers are learning more about ancient graffiti — and their intriguing comparisons to modern graffiti — as they produce a state-of-the-art 3D recording of the Temple of Isis in Philae, Egypt.
SFU geography professor Nick Hedley.
© Simon Fraser University
SFU geography professor Nick Hedley.
Working with the University of Ottawa, the researchers published their early findings in Egyptian Archaeology and have returned to Philae to advance the project.

"It's fascinating because there are similarities with today's graffiti," says SFU geography professor Nick Hedley, co-investigator of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)-funded project. "The iconic architecture of ancient Egypt was built by those in positions of power and wealth, but the graffiti records the voices and activities of everybody else. The building acts like a giant sponge or notepad for generations of people from different cultures for over 2,000 years."

As an expert in spatial reality capture, Hedley leads the team's innovative visualization efforts, documenting the graffiti, their architectural context, and the spaces they are found in using advanced methods like photogrammetry, raking light, and laser scanning. "I'm recording reality in three-dimensions — the dimensionality in which it exists," he explains.


'A total fiasco in all aspects': 20 years on, how the illegal invasion of Iraq backfired on the US

© Joe Raedle/Getty Images
155 mm howitzers • February 20, 2003 • Iraqi border in Kuwait
In March 2003, then President George W Bush approved the military attack, with major repercussions for US politics, and global perceptions of the country...

Twenty years ago, the world was shaken by one of the major geopolitical events of this century. On the morning of March 20, 2003, the US officially launched its illegal invasion of Iraq. The rationale was based on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's alleged ties with terrorists, and intelligence regarding the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. However, both claims turned out to be false and were later refuted.

Russian political analysts believe that the real reasons behind the invasion of Iraq included a desire for control over oil fields, the naive hope of creating a 'showcase of democracy' in the Middle East, and a demonstration of the 'fight against terrorism' to US voters. None of these goals were achieved, but the grievous consequences of the endeavor are evident.


Indigenous people of the American West used 'sacred' horses a half-century earlier than previously thought

Indigenous oral histories and archaeological evidence are rewriting the story of how horses came to the American West.
A petroglyph

Centuries-old horse skeletons from the American Southwest are helping rewrite a colonial myth: When the Spanish colonized the region in the 17th century, they didn't introduce horses to Indigenous people, as long thought. Instead, horses were present in the Southwest long before Europeans, and were traded by Indigenous people who formed close, sacred relationships with them, a new study finds.

Horses lived in North America for millions of years but went extinct at the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. When Europeans reintroduced horses to what is now the eastern U.S. in 1519, these hoofed mammals radically altered Indigenous ways of life, rapidly causing changes to food production methods, transportation and warfare. In the Southwest, historical Spanish records suggest horses spread throughout the area after the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, when Indigenous people forced Spanish settlers out of what is now New Mexico. But these records, made a century after the revolt, do not align with the oral histories of the Comanche and Shoshone people, who document horse use far earlier.

Using tools such as radiocarbon dating, ancient and modern DNA analysis and isotope analysis (isotopes are elements with varying numbers of neutrons in their nuclei), a large and diverse team of researchers from 15 countries and multiple Native American groups, including members of the Lakota, Comanche and Pawnee nations, have now determined that horses did indeed spread across the continent earlier and faster than previously assumed.


2,000 ram heads discovered at Temple of Rameses II in Egypt

Some of the 2,000 ram heads discovered in Egypt.
© Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
Some of the 2,000 ram heads discovered in Egypt.
More than 2,000 mummified ram heads and a palatial Old Kingdom structure have been uncovered by archaeologists at the King Ramses II Temple of Abydos.

The finds, located roughly 270 miles south of Cairo, come from a period of over 1,000 years, from the Sixth Dynasty to the Heroic Age, making some of the discoveries over 4,300 years old.

In addition to the ancient ram's head, archaeologists from the University of New York also discovered a group of mummified dogs, wild goats, cows, deer and an ostrich.

The mummified remains are believed to have been left at the site to honor Ramses II about 1,000 years after his death, the Egyptian Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities said.

It is thought that the rams and other animals would have been used as offerings during worship of the rams in Abydus during the Bipidus period, Dr Sameh Iskandar, head of the mission added in a statement.


Fire reveals Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral was historical first in using iron reinforcements in the 12th century

© Maxime L'Héritier, CC-BY 4.0 /creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
View of the chevet of Notre-Dame de Paris under restoration.
The Notre-Dame de Paris is the first known cathedral of Gothic-style architecture to be initially constructed with extensive use of iron to bind stones together. The 2019 fire that significantly damaged the cathedral enabled analyses leading to this discovery, by Maxime L'Héritier of Université Paris 8, France and colleagues, who present these findings in PLOS ONE on March 15, 2023.

At the time of its construction in the mid-12th century, Notre-Dame was the tallest building ever erected, reaching a height of 32 meters.
Previous research suggests that this record was made possible by combining a number of architectural innovations. However, despite extensive use of iron reinforcements in more recent cathedrals and in efforts to restore old buildings, it has been unclear what role iron might have played in Notre-Dame's initial construction.

Comment: See also:


Unique and very well-preserved prehistoric engravings found in southwestern Catalonia

Rock Art1
Significant prehistoric rock art has been discovered in La Febro, in southwestern Catalonia.

The team that discovered the art inside Cova de la Vila described it as "exceptional, both for its singularity and excellent state of conservation."

In the Cova de la Vila cave in La Febró (Tarragona), in northeastern Spain's region of Catalonia, more than 100 prehistoric engravings have been found, arranged on an eight-meter panel.

According to experts, it is a composition related to the worldview of agricultural societies and farmers of the territory. One of the singularities of this mural is that it is made exclusively with the engraving technique, with stone or wood tools.

The engravings include shapes that resemble horses, cows, suns, and stars.

Julio Serrano, Montserrat Roca, and Francesc Rubinat were the cavers responsible for the discovery; they collaborated with Josep Vallverd, Antonio Rodrguez-Hidalgo, and Diego Lombao, researchers from the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES-CERCA), and Ramón Vias, an expert in prehistoric rock art.

It was in May 2021, during some scans and topographical work by a group of speleologists in the Barranc de la Cova del Corral, that they discovered the Cova de la Vila, a cavity excavated by Salvador Vilaseca in the 1940s and whose coordinates appear to have been lost.


Research team uncovers further ceiling paintings in the temple of Esna, Egypt

Representation of the zodiac sign Sagittarius
© University of Tübingen
Representation of the zodiac sign Sagittarius.
An Egyptian-German research team has uncovered yet another series of colorful ceiling paintings at the Temple of Esna in Upper Egypt. The researchers reported that the Egyptian restoration team, led by Ahmed Emam, succeeded in completely restoring and re-coloring a representation of the heavens. The images, executed in relief, include a complete depiction of the signs of the zodiac. Other reliefs show the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, as well as a number of stars and constellations used in ancient times to measure time. The overall project is in the hands of Hisham El-Leithy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and Professor Christian Leitz of the University of Tübingen.

"Representations of the zodiac are very rare in Egyptian temples," Leitz says, adding "The zodiac itself is part of Babylonian astronomy and does not appear in Egypt until Ptolemaic times." Researchers think the system of zodiac signs and their related constellations was introduced to Egypt by the Greeks and subsequently became popular. "The zodiac was used to decorate private tombs and sarcophagi and was of great importance in astrological texts, such as horoscopes found inscribed on pottery sherds," says Dr. Daniel von Recklinghausen, a Tübingen researcher. "However, it is rare in temple decoration: Apart from Esna, there are only two completely preserved versions left, both from Dendera," he says.
Temple of Esna in Upper Egypt
© University of Tübingen
Temple of Esna in Upper Egypt.

Better Earth

'Prehistoric' mummified bear discovered in Siberian permafrost isn't what we thought, nor do we know how it got there

mummified bear
© North-Eastern Federal University
A close-up of the mummified bear's head. The bear, unearthed in 2020, was originally assumed to be an extinct cave bear that dated back at least 22,000 years. But a new necropsy reveals it is actually a brown bear that lived 3,500 years ago.
A perfectly preserved, mummified bear found entombed in the Siberian permafrost in 2020 isn't what scientists thought it was, a new analysis reveals. It turns out that the eerily intact carcass is much younger than first assumed and belongs to an entirely different species.

Reindeer herders unearthed the remains, which include the bear's intact skin, fur, teeth, nose, claws, body fat and internal organs, on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island, a remote Russian island located in the East Siberian Sea. Researchers named it the Etherican bear, after the nearby Bolshoy Etherican River.

Comment: Ice bridge? Land bridge? Either way, it may reveal how significantly different the geography of certain regions has been at different times in the past.